Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel, Useless Astronauts, has the sensation of a mosaic. Up shut, you’ll be able to marvel on the deft collection of every factor, every phrase and sentence, and admire the way it interacts with its speedy neighbors. From a lot additional again, taking within the e-book as an entire, scenes and themes snap collectively. Seen from anyplace in between—a single web page, a single chapter—it’s a riot of discrete, disconnected items. Lovely, definitely. Sensical, definitely not.
In fact, sense—together with different conventions like plot—is just not what you search for in VanderMeer. The creator of the Southern Attain Trilogy and Borne, he’s value studying as a result of his visions of people and the world they inhabit are much less Hopper than Dali, or actually, Hiernomymous Bosch, who in Useless Astronauts lends his identify to a leviathan charged with gobbling up failed organic experiments solid out of laboratories. (Technically the identify of the hideous fish, like most issues in Useless Astronauts, is corrupted—Bosch to, nearly too fittingly, Botch.) Like Bosch, VanderMeer has imagined Hell, a useless world of the useless, tortured and nonetheless bent on torturing each other. A recent horror made from previous errors.
Followers of Vandermeer will discover bits of his older work echoing via Useless Astronauts. For one, there’s the useless astronauts themselves, who’re a thriller talked about passingly in Borne, however largely there’s the anonymous Firm and the anonymous Metropolis. For those who’ve solely learn the Southern Attain (or seen Annihilation), consider the Metropolis as an inverted Space X—relatively than a reclaimed, unpolluted alien wilderness, the Metropolis is a artifical lavatory of chemical compounds, egg-shaped buildings, and twisted, tortured, gene-spliced creatures made by a biotech agency, the Firm. In Useless Astronauts, we largely inhabit the minds of a wierd trio making an attempt to defeat the Firm: Grayson, the chief, a girl with a blind eye that may see issues nobody else can; Chen, a person who sees the world when it comes to equations and who’s possibly made from salamanders; and Moss, who lacks constant kind and gender and possesses nice and mysterious psychological powers.
The characters across the trio, the useless astronauts, are even stranger, but in addition extra folkloric: Botch; a messianic blue fox; a broken-winged duck; the antagonist Charlie X, a foul man with a worse father. At occasions, to infiltrate the Metropolis, the trio adopts a disguise they name “faery mode.” An addict mom reads fairy tales to her daughter, however the morals are by no means the conventional ones. A father forcing a son to eat his personal creations carries shades of Historic Greek fable. The sensation of fable is frequent in post-apocalyptic fiction—the extremes of the longer term echoing the extremes of the previous, and enjoying gracenotes of nostalgia overtop the horrifying setting. VanderMeer isn’t doing area Western or ersatz Aesop, although. His morals are by no means the conventional ones, both.
If Useless Astronauts has a message, it’s not one thing so clear as “respect nature,” or “don’t let starvation for innovation outweigh decency,” or “don’t surgically change your son’s face with a bat face.” Useless Astronauts is impressionist, stream of consciousness, jazz. VanderMeer fills entire pages with the identical traces, repeated again and again: “They killed me. They introduced me again. They killed me. They introduced me again. They killed me.” He fills extra pages with all of the phrases that rhyme with “duck.” That’s why it’s so tough to cleave an element from the entire, why you’ll be able to speak about a second or a picture or your entire work. The story, equivalent to it’s, is elusive, given to tangent, to mad jumps in time and universe and perspective, every new little bit of plot unfolding as if its predecessor had been solely half-remembered and poorly understood.